Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Macartovin Building Project @ the 2014 Utica Music & Arts Fest, August - October 2014

I'm reposting this with a complete picture of how everything was in the end because it ABSOLUTELY TOTALLY RULED!!! How did I get to do this????

Opening night, Friday September 12 2014

Filter Mask Zombies With Broom
Digital photograph, no fixed dimensions.

Our story so far ... In February Joe Sweet, the director of the Utica Music & Arts Fest, contacted me and based on the success of last year's UMAF ventures inquired if I'd be interested in organizing some visual arts for this year's fest. Uhhh,


And as it turned out, I'd been itching to up the ante on the art shows we'd been staging with the Project-U Artists Group I sit as co-Chair on. I wanted something big, ambitious, and more rewarding than the risk free approaches which the group had spiraled into: Low profile exhibits of small works in established area businesses with modest works of art priced under $100 and made to be sold, often under the guise of "fund raisers". Which were enjoyable to take part in & well attended by our art scene friends/colleagues but were not capturing the imagination of the general populace of Utica to the extent that my ambitions yearned for. 

David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" from 1974 has become my soundtrack for this project, punctuated by lyrics about urban decay, streets with bars at the end, mutant peopleoids scavenging the trash heaps & roving gangs of art punks with dyed hair on roller skates. Click the arrow to listen along while reading.

My instincts told me that the music fest (UMAF for short) would deliver a ready-made audience just by the nature of the event. And from the experience of taking part in both pop-up gallery shows and the live mural painting events from the 2012 and 2013 fests I calculated that Uticans would be eager enough to have visual arts play a more direct role in UMAF to show up at whatever we might be able to stage. We just needed the right catalyst to set the emulsion aflame, excite the artists group and coax participation from even those amongst the group who had become reluctant or disinterested.

Macartovin Apartments, 7 Devereux St. Utica NY.

How it came about is still a subject for speculation, I maintain that just showing up with my clipboard and the right shoes was the key element. But in March I was in Utica changing out some of the works shown in the group's Art In Windows program for the downtown Utica business district, of which the Macartovin Building at the corner of Genesee and Devereux Streets (right across from the Radisson Center) had been one of our staunchest supporters. It was a cold, windy, raw day -- I actually came home with bronchitus & spent the next three weeks coughing up bits of lung -- and I arrived in a foul mood, anticipating a contentious artists group meeting immediately after we finished.

We were greeted by the building supervisor herself who escorted us out of the cold and helpfully stayed with us while doing what needed to be done. I was introduced to the Feed Our Vets program housed on their ground floor and while traversing the massive windowed front where the artworks hang was shown something absolutely remarkable: A disused department store space behind the windows, curtained off and appearing as though nobody had given a damn about it for at least a decade. But the walls were gleaming white, it had that "raw urban commercial/industrial space" thing going on that yelled out Brooklyn, and the supervisor completely blew my blue haired mind when she stated "You know, I would love it if you guys could come up with something to do with this."


The space in question as it first met my eyes in March of 2014.

It was all I could do to not fall flat on my face right there on the spot. After chortling and chuckling like a James Bond movie meglomaniac I managed to babble "Do you have any idea whom you are talking to here???" And indeed she did! having been familiar with my role in directing the Art In Windows program since April of 2013 via online postings with lots of goofball pictures I insisted on sharing to anyone who cares about art. She'd seen it and was good to go -- We began negotiations as soon as I could go without needing a trash can to cough into and a plan began to crystalize, not just for use of the space but an arts project spread across the downtown Utica area utilizing all of the venues at the artists group's disposal and UMAF as its source of viewers.

One of the goals I'd been working for with the Project-U group was the creation of a studios facility where our member artists could create, preferably with some sort of ground floor exhibition space which we could open up to the public for curated shows. Needless to say that foul mood the afternoon had started with was gone and I sat there giggling through the group meeting later, barely able to contain my excitement at having apparently scored big time. 

I also thought about all the hard work which prior artists had put into the Art In Windows project and knew that I was very much a late comer onto the scene -- Art In Windows had existed long before Project-U had been formed, and I was later told that others had approached the Macartovin hierarchy before about using the space but hadn't gotten positive responses. For whatever reasons the day I was present my timing was spot on. Including word that the building (which is a Housing and Urban Development property featuring subsidized apartments for qualified senior citizens) was due for a code inspection in the fall and that renovations would have to take place to bring it up to current standards.

The famous red desks -- there are two -- which had been appropriated for scrap metal collection but hidden by those who detested the idea of them being destroyed. I sit at one now while typing this up.

That was in March, and by April I'd formulated enough of a plan to approach the supervisor again and make a proposal for a combination of studio spaces and a gallery zone with a target date of the music fest for an opening "launch party" with simultaneous reception events at five venues all within a four to six block radius of the location. Which went over great with the people whom I first approached until the semantics and politics of urbanized art in the very unique creative community comprising the Utica art scene presented itself as a nice speed bump. Tensions within the artists group also led to a "backing off" from the proposal which cost some time, not the least of which was over confusion as to just where and how I would be living. No way could I drive from Syracuse to Utica five days a week to work on getting the space ready, especially without being paid for the work. Mileage = money.

Artist Marc-Anthony Polizzi inspecting the very interesting heap of junk left behind by the space's prior user, a gentleman whose auto body detailing shop had been closed. He left lots of neat stuff behind.

It took until June for a scheme to solidify -- I would sublet the spare room from a Utica colleague who was overseas for August to begin working the space and be present for UMAF visual arts planning sessions. Our venue list for the launch party event was also honed down to four locations, and as good fortune had it another artist from the group had been planning for a show at one of them all along. 

The room in my dad's basement where he stores his forestry slides which I retreated to in July after moving out of the apartment I'd been renting. It is about as large as the food locker on NASA's old Skylab, and has spiders.

Additional fun arose when the landlord of my Syracuse apartment reminded me that I'd have to be out of there before the end of July or sign for another year, and my younger brother's wedding in Ontario, Canada became the focus of our family's activities. I began moving out on July 9th, by the 21st I was out of the apartment (ten years in that place, it darn near almost did me in) and by noon on the 24th in a vehicle on the way to Canada with my older brother, his spouse and the real rock star of the family, the eight year old niece.

A glowing Carol & Phil, July 26 2014, with flower gals Alice and niece Emma.

Planning meeting at the Upstate Flux Arts Incubator, 920 Columbia St. in Utica, left to right with UMAF director Joe Sweet, artists Marc-Anthony Polizzi, Julie Angerosa and Christopher Farrell.

So by the last week in July with everybody married, moved out and eager for something new I was able to finally get my ass to Utica and begin the actual busywork of not just preparing the Macartovin Bldg. space but leading the effort on visual arts at UMAF. Which has involved more sitting around posting things online than actual rolled up sleeves muscle work, as well as plenty of driving back and forth including to Syracuse for meetings with event promoters Galaxy Communications. Nobody told me about any of this in graduate school, other than to make sure you wore the right shoes. Which paid off, so whatever; Let's hear it for SUNY Albany! Thanks guys.

The working draft of the street map of downtown Utica I made for my project proposal noting the relationship of the venue locations to each other, the longest distance of which (Hotel Utica to the Tramontane Cafe) is all of six blocks. 

The main commons room of the CNY Veteran's Outreach Center, 726 Washington St. Utica NY

I also began a very interesting assignment as an Artist in Residence at the CNY Veteran's Outreach Center, where artist Julie Angerosa had established a studio room for the veterans who make use of the Center's facilities to make art in. Every week I spend one afternoon hanging out with them, talking about & making art, and Julie hatched an idea for another UMAF exhibit in their commons space featuring just artworks by the eager, excited and so grateful veterans. Somebody pinch me.

Julie's art room at the CNY Veteran's Outreach Center. I'm there every Wednesday from 1pm to 4pm until further notice.

One facet of these visual arts events for the 2014 Utica Music & Arts Fest will be a live mural painting event along the lines of what I'd taken part of in September 2012 and 2013 (check prior posts from those months for coverage of what took place). This year's version will be staged in the big Utica Memorial Auditorium -- home to the Utica Comets -- and here we are on the main floor where CNYArts.Org and the Indie Garage Sale will be hosting vendor booths, a kids art corner, a bounce castle (I want my turn too!  :) and other fascinating goings-on centered around a music stage set up where that blue cart is parked.

And here we face the other end of the arena where the planning committee I scouted it with immediately picked as the idea spot. Specifically utilizing those kickboards between the two entry points as a base for a series of boards. The base is 40 foot long making the calculation of artists per board space fairly simple: Ten artists, each participant gets four square feet of masonite.

A closer look at the kickboard base upon which a protective layer of plastic will be wrapped then drop cloths galore along the floor in front of it. The 4x4 foot sections of masonite will then be zip-tied to the railing pipes behind it, and the floor crew chief estimated we could put them in place in about three hours the week of the event. I told him I appreciated his confidence & would see him in two weeks with sample boards to play with and think about.

Somewhat more urbane, spider-free accommodations at the Utica sublet, though I've been weekending in Syracuse to facilitate the sale of my prized movie collection and chill with mom. Get my best thinking done on the highway too so as long as the weather holds no sweat. Kind of fun sometimes.

Two more weeks of negotiating with building management and gathering resources finally led to the big day when we could actually start preparing the space on August 18th, and above is a view of what we started with.

Taking an oxygen break with artists Maise Janda and Myhrieah Oh, who had been the curator of the Art In Windows installations in the Macartovin windows for most of 2013. The two were on the bounce, dressed for the grime, frosty and composed, and we got busy.

With Syracuse based artist Caroline A. Locatelli, whose marvelous installation piece comprised of television sets + a stuffed deer head was the perfect example of exactly what I'd been hoping Art In Windows would yield: Site-specific installations rather than paintings arranged on easels or nailed to backing walls.

Caroline A. Locatelli. Almost cried when I saw it for the first time: Exactly what I'd been hoping would happen. Art that isn't just a bunch of paintings sitting there waiting to be changed out. I've also heard rumor three of the televisions are functional and am itching for a chance to plug them in just to see what it will look like from across the street.

Artist Kathy Donovan from nearby New Hartford in there somewhere! helping to raise the dust. Kathy also offered to help with designing a notification card to promote our UMAF events (results at the bottom of the page), and I did not say no.

The big break! after demonstrating commitment to seeing the proposal through -- KEYS, meaning 24 hour access, as well as a responsibility to not burn that trust which had been established. There's a legacy to uphold here and those who came before me can rely on my discretion in just what those keys are used for.

Taking a breather with Kathy D., managing to look gosh-darned cute even with that dust mask on. 
I like my job somedays  ;D

The results at the end of week one. Though as the work progressed certain "features" or "attributes" of the space began to become painfully clear, especially how irregular the flooring had become when I took a nice fall whilst idiotically dragging a trash can backwards. The space also managed to be larger than I'd remembered from over the spring, and it dawned on me that those walls were so huge that artwork, maintenance staff and former graduate students alike would be swallowed whole by them.

So the emphasis on what the project was about changed: Studio spaces sure, but not a gallery in the sense that we were used to. Instead large scale artworks in and beyond the human scale, larger than life, displayed in as minimal a way as possible and feature the architecture itself as much as the art. We wouldn't fret over the urban funk or how to repair it, we'd work it baby. Let the sexiness of the space speak for itself, and suggest how work of such scope could be displayed inside of it. 

We can make studios in any old disused downtown building, but here was a chance to fashion an exhibition space to feature contemporary art of ambition and quality beyond what your standard discreet for-profit gallery is capable of. A center for the contemporary arts in downtown Utica NY featuring name-brand artists with regional draw, bringing viewers from Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, even downstate. No such thing currently exists, and the prospect of being the director of such a project denied me several nights of sound sleep as I lay there giggling or otherwise saturated in what it all suggested -- Something to do, someplace to be, people to work with. Purpose.

Experimenting with a collection of my friends/colleagues works which had previously adorned my kitchen, living room and back hall. Not done as an exhibit but to see with my own eyes how artworks would appear on those walls, how the colors would relate to the surface, how light would fall on them and whether they really would be swallowed whole. I left it up for a day, came back the next and decided the only one holding its own was the one in the middle with the giant rooster, painted by Hamilton NY based artist Molly MacBean.

Presenting artist Jenna North! freshly back from Italy here with a trophy winning suntan. I'd been trying to coax her into seeing the space since March and yeah, she liked it. Knew it all along  ;D

Meeting with SUNY Cobleskill Professor Kayla Cady Vaughn! who promptly kicked my ass with a bit of tough love by refusing to hang any artwork in the space until liability issues were addressed and a bidning gallery contract drawn up, outlining exactly what is expected of the contributing artists and whom is responsible should mishap, bad fortune, acts of God or human skullduggery raise their heads. 

This is why I work with these people: Not only do they have more experience in such things but look upon exhibition proposals from a different perspective. My mission had been to deliver the venue with art show on time for the festival, with enough lights to see the artwork. After my meeting with Kayla it became how to do so without anyone managing to injure themselves or artwork being destroyed. Because guess who's responsible if any does? The guy with the keys. He has blue hair, cribs in his dad's basement or with a friend, and doesn't even have a real job or website. Some sort of artist or whatever.

I want this, and indeed LED shop lamps have become the preferred solution for how to light the space at next to zero cost. Left this one behind and went with a couple of single lamp floor lights for now, with the hope that four of them will prove adequate for basic illumination of the space during the four hours of the "launch party" at UMAF.

Lighting evaluation with Chris Farrell and Marc-Anthony Polizzi, both of whom recommended we concoct a method to suspend the lamps from the brackets holding the PVC piping overhead. Two at the front, two at the back, angled to flood as much of the walls & floor as possible. Seems to work so far, and it only has to hold together for the four hours of the UMAF event as a demonstration of our intent.

I also decided to try my luck at using the space for its original intent -- studio spaces -- and fortune had a surprise awaiting me in this old luan door found in the rubble heap excavated during the early heavy cleaning.

And So It Goes
Acrylics and caran d'ache on luan door, 80 x 24 inches (unfinished).

... Maybe this is my home now? Too big and creepy after dark to sleep in yet, which is why humans create walls for things called rooms but one thing at a time. Working sink & toilet next door at Feed Our Vets. All I'd need is a camp shower and a microwave.

Illumination using the two 800 lumen LED shop lamps positioned just to light this section, and that is darn near viewable ... Good thing nobody was standing between the lights and the artwork or it would be shadow city, and we do want people to look closer if they like, so back to the drawing board. But it is just about bright enough to see the artwork and that's what I promised to deliver.

Another view of this marvelous columned section showing the height of these walls, which I put at about 30 feet and demonstrating how scale of work shown will make or break the experience. Too small and it will just disappear so my motto for our UMAF effort has become "Nothing under four feet."

Back at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, or the Aud for short, delivering board samples as requested. This view shows what will be the main entrance for the music fest event -- called "ArtSpace at the Aud" -- and a display of the 2013 music fest murals inside of the foyer there has been requested. Told them we'd see what was left of me come that last week, and if needed I'd drag them down the block by hand from their current exhibition space at APAC Customer Services on Genesee St. We'll see.

And success, or rather validation of the plan to sit the masonite panels on the kickboards. Now we just need eight more, something to prime them with and a method to keep them from warping into pretzels while drying. And so it goes.

 Visiting in the Macartovin space with artist Mia Simiele! one of the Utica area veterans whose work will be featured in the CNY Veteran's Outreach Center show opening Friday September 12th.

Artist/curator Elizabeth Gressel, just about to start her Master's in Museum Sciences, getting the ball rolling by installing her absolutely glorious installation piece from the Art In Windows program made from recycled books, a little bit of dye and some screws to hang it from.

Bingo. Hell yeah I wanted that in my show, and it inspired me to bust a move on breaking out one of my own biggies to spot opposite it.

Fear of Artwork

Dutch Interior 1997
Mixed media on canvas and wood panel, overall 84 x 144 inches.

Nice fanciful shot of "unveiling" the space to passers-by one afternoon and we actually got a walk-in from a Utican who'd heard someone was making an art gallery there. Contemplating names for it, with The MacARTovin Annex the name I'd chosen in homage to the SUNY Albany Art Annex on Railroad Ave. in Albany where my studio had been while working on my MFA there. Or just The MacARTovin and The Mac for short ... MacARTovin Arms also came to mind, borrowing a line from "Sandford & Son" where Red Foxx named the hotel next door he purchase The Sandford Arms. The MacARTovin Arms ... It has a nice ring to it.

A visit from performance artist Catherine Wright! Who has offered to enact one of her "coming of fall" pieces in the big windows for our reception event on September 12th. Check June's posts for coverage of Catherine's "Tough Love" premiere in Syracuse. Pretty far out stuff.

With artist Myrhieah Oh! who administrated the Art In Windows for us at the Macartovin Building last year, and will lead the effort to create studio mockups in the front windows. 

YES!@!!! Artist Kathy Donovan with her breathtaking pastel & charcoal take on Rodin's "Gates of Hell", which in one fell swoop accomplished exactly what I'd hoped for from this first show. Massive, monumental, gasp-provoking artwork of ambition and quality. Freaking LOVE my job somedays. aye.

And Kathy D.'s notification card work made to promote our four downtown Utica gallery events for the first night of UMAF, all on Friday September 12th and running from 5pm to 9pm:

Landscaped: Making the Physical World at the Tramontane Cafe, 1105 Lincoln Ave.

The Gallery of Valor at the CNY Veteran's Outreach Center, 726 Washington St.

Upstate Flux: Open Studios, 920D Columbia St.

The MacARTovin Building Open Studios, 7 Devereux St. at the corner of Genesee.


UPDATE 10.22.14!!!! Here's how things shaped up over the last few days, and this was totally one of the most incredible experiences of my career to date.

Artist Tony Thompson, back from cranial surgery last spring to make us all proud by his spirit to continue working no matter what curve ball the Cosmos has in store. That guy's my hero.

Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson -- "Even Kings Fall"

Tony at work on a new painting in his pod bay window.

Jenna North's marvelous painting for the show.


Kayla Cady! making me proud by installing her incredible fibers piece after meeting the criteria she outlined for her participation. And QUICK! is that column Doric, Ionic or Corinthean?

Kayla Cady Vaughn

With Professor Vaughn, who also helped out with crowd control during opening night. Went off without a hitch!

Artist Laura H. Taylor helping prepare our mural boards for ArtSpace at the Aud.

And BINGO! Made in a shade.

With Frank! floor crew chief at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.

Artist Marc-Anthony Polizzi at the Upstate Flux gallery space preparing his installation for their open studios event.

"Landscaped: Making the Physical World" at the Tramontane Cafe.

Douglas Ruhm's marvelous large painting for the UMAF show.

With Kyle Reicker! a local DJ & sound engineer who provided vibes for the opening reception event.

With Laura H. Taylor  ;]

With sculptor Peter Leone! who provided sculptural objects to help keep viewers away from the known problem spots on the floor.

With artist Dawn H. Farrar, who organized the "Landscaped" show at the Tramontane Cafe with handiwork by Kathy D.

Artist Marc Tucci and his collaborator Sonny Boyee.

Tony Thompson, at work. I love it.

Timothy Rand's large scale works for the exhibit.

Timothy Rand

With artist Tim Rand ... Why.So.Serious.

Artist Julie Angerosa installing her three panel panting for the exhibit, which we curated to bring attention to the wall it was mounted on.

With artist Julie Angerosa! who pulled double-duty on this event by also curating the exhibit of artworks at the CNY Veteran's Outreach Center up the block.

Julie Angerosa

Artists Julie Angerosa, Mia Simiele and Lisa Allen finalizing the "Gallery of Valor" exhibit at the CNY Veteran's Outreach Center.

Performance artist Catherine Wright fine-tuning her projection setup with Jenna North, and sadly I was stationed at the Veteran's Outreach Center during Catherine's performance and did not see a thing!

With artist Catherine Wright! expect to hear more about this young lady, she is our rock star.

With artist Richelle Maki! whom I invited to populate a wall with her mannequin creations -- Look to the March 2014 posts for blog coverage of a show of them I helped to stage in Syracuse.

With artist Cathy Marsh! who has encouraged me to pursue this mad dream from day one and I couldn't have done it without her support.

Artist Myrhieah Oh and Pumpkin! finishing up her installation for the front window zone.

Sound check on Thursday the 11th with punky ArtCat Wright and DJ Kyle Riecker.

Final state of the art, with the lights still on the floor in this view.

And BINGO! Finished on opening night awaiting our throng. Rough estimate has the total crowd at about 150 over the course of the four-hour event, and that ain't bad.

FOOT TRAFFIC! During gallery hours the week after the opening these brave Pratt students wandered in to see what there was to see.

Current state of the gallery space with the show half un-installed. I hate it when exhibits get stale! and am eager to start plotting out the next shebang. Late January, perhaps?

AND UPDATE! Dad's garage now clear of my possessions. Back to work!

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